Colorado Democrats call for new national monument in Rockies

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Winter at the historic site of Camp Hale near Tennessee Pass, where soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II.

Top Colorado Democrats on Friday asked President Joe Biden to declare a new national monument in the heart of their state's Rocky Mountains.

In a letter to Biden, the state's two Democratic senators, Democratic governor and Democratic congressman who represents the area asked for Biden to create a Camp Hale - Continental Divide National Monument. The preserve would be centered on Camp Hale outside of Vail, where the legendary 10th Mountain Division trained for alpine warfare during World War II. Many of the soldiers returned to Colorado to play a pivotal role in founding the state's ski industry.

“The history of this area, including the role that it played in preparing the 10th Mountain Division for some of the most difficult moments of World War II, makes it the ideal candidate for a national monument designation,” wrote Sens. Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Joe Neguse.

Presidents can unilaterally create national monuments, preserving in perpetuity land they find to be scenically or historically significant. Biden has created no national monuments yet in his term but moved to restore land President Donald Trump trimmed from two in southern Utah. Monuments can be controversial, especially in the West, when they impede energy or other types of development or lock up lands that ranchers and farmers counted on using.

Preserving Camp Hale was part of a large conservation bill known as the CORE Act that has been stalled in congress for several years. Many Colorado Republicans object to the legislation, arguing it's a federal land grab that would bar development of critical mineral and energy resources.

The Democrats' letter acknowledges the act is stalled and asks Biden to designate his first national monument instead. The monument would include an unspecified amount of the surrounding Tenmile range. The letter also asks for Biden to use his executive power to preserve a natural gas-rich chunk of western Colorado landscape, known as the Thompson Divide, from energy exploration, and increase restrictions on exploration and extraction in national forests in other western parts of the state.

“By taking these steps, you will be making sure that even more of Colorado’s open spaces will be preserved for future generations,” the Democrats wrote.

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose western Colorado district would be home to most of the new limits on energy exploration under the proposal, said she didn't back additional preservation for Camp Hale. “I don’t support the efforts of extremist environmentalists who are seeking to hijack this historic place to create a new land designation,” Boebert said in a statement.